Kojaque – ‘Town’s Dead’ review: a shatteringly real reflection of Dublin life

The Irish rapper's fierce independent spirit permeates through this satisfying and often touching debut album

On the second track of this debut album from Dublin rapper Kojaque, we eavesdrop on a conversation between two friends on their way out for New Year’s Eve. They squabble about which tunes to play and which clubs to hit, but also about how their friend Kojaque still lives with his mum and how town is dead these days. They might seem like throwaway lines on first listen, but they contain the essence of this album’s fiery message.

Kojaque, real name Kevin Smith, is a proud Dubliner, but he knows first-hand the ravaging effect that the city’s political and social changes are having on its young people. Smith really did record this album when he was still living with his mum because of the prohibitively expensive rental costs, and yes, town is not a social destination for his age group anymore. As he says on the title track, “Now the corpos are knocking down the flats just to build a few gaffs, just to fill ‘em with some triple barrel surnames.

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That track’s central refrain builds from a whisper into a howling, primal scream, the sound of a neglected generation. ‘Black Sheep Part 1’ and ‘Rover’ paint their characters empathetically, portraying flaws as well as understanding that the pressures and grief associated with the struggle has a tendency to bring out the worst in people. Smith pours his own autobiographical detail into these songs too, with the painfully poignant ‘No Hands’ bringing us inside the turmoil that struck his family following his father’s suicide when Smith was a child.

Smith’s affinity for smoky, jazz club beats come to the fore repeatedly; ‘Wickid Tongues’ offers mellow, organ-like synth keys and string samples to diffuse the anxious energy, while ‘Shmelly’ is rounded out with reedy brass parts and reflective vocals. Other times, he sails closer to the winds of mainstream hip-hop, where the production is smoother, the vocals are clearer and the hooks are hookier, as on ‘Sex n’ Drugs’ and ‘Heartbreak’. Smith seems equally at home in either setting, or anywhere in between, his years of independent creativity rewarding him with a lightness and dexterity that belies his youth.

The near-inevitable track near a debut rap album’s conclusion reflecting on a time when ever getting to make an album seemed an impossibility (‘Casio’) is a rare cliché that Smith falls into, but otherwise, Town’s Dead is an evocative, diverse and shatteringly real reflection of the current state of the city that spawned it.

Details

Kojaque

  • Release date: June 25
  • Record label: Soft Boy Records
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